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And now, the end is near… In less than two months I shall have my first proper drink since March 2015.

Away for a year, and the rules of the drinking game have changed – lower recommended consumption threshold and potentially lower limit for drivers – I can’t leave you guys in charge for five minutes?

I was 29, the last time I got drunk, and it will be my 31st birthday before I touch another drop of liquor. I will be older, but will I be wiser?

In my previous posts I looked at why I stopped drinking – which seemed to boil down to two main points of memory loss and bad life choices (plus sometimes being a dick, but apparently that’s more my perception than anyone else’s) – and how it has been going – which is swimmingly.

But I didn’t take a year off just for a challenge – that’s what Dry January’s for – or for a bet, although that would have been great. I did it to have a look at my drinking, and I guess I’d better start thinking about what I should change when I go back to it.
(Many people have asked ‘are you thinking of continuing?’ to which the answer is an emphatic ‘no.’ I enjoy drinking, and this has been an extreme form of break, but booze has its place and as long as I can enjoy it sensibly I there are times and places when I will do so.)

Over the last year I’ve had a lot of conversations about drink. One friend told me they figured that anything negative that’s happened in their life and their family’s life has mainly been to do with alcohol, they needed to remove it from their life. They also said that they wanted to be more in control of their life and remember everything and be more confident.

Those were broadly the issues I had, and I felt I had them mainly beaten, although at least one bad drunken decision has come back to bite me in the arse just as I thought my sobriety had given me armour plated trousers.

But at the same time I am looking forward to enjoying the taste of a nice wine, or a couple of convivial rums, or a gluhwein against the cold. And a few nights on the town wouldn’t hurt.

One of the things I told one of my friend is that ‘My aim is to be a better drinker, in terms of judgement and restraint, when my year is up,’ and that’s something I aim to stick to.

There have been things over the past year which have been tricky to say no to, but which I would have jumped into feet first if I had had a drink. Things I really want to do but know I shouldn’t. Sobriety has given me the ability to pre-empt how I could end up messing stuff up, and also taken away the excuse of drunkenness. Hopefully I can maintain that.

Another friend introduced me to the concept of ‘hard stops’ a horrible jargony term that basically means ‘no ifs or buts.’

This is a tricky one, as everyone’s relationship to alcohol changes from situation to situation, and while one evening a ‘quiet drink’ can turn into a spontaneous and ad-hoc best-night-of-my-life, the same scenario on another night can end with you vomiting in chippy alley and realising you’ve only got four hours to work.

The point in hard stops (sorry) is that they don’t allow for the ‘just one more’ which can be a slippery slope, but the flip side is that they can cut off a wonderful bloom before it can achieve boozy glory.

That said, here are a few that I have come up with:

  • I’m going to return to my policy of not boozing before watching live music (and try and cut down at football). This used to be pretty strict for me, simply because I wanted to enjoy the gig, not need to keep going for a piss or to the bar, and remember everything rather than just have a vague fug. Also, if it’s a good gig who needs alcohol?
  • A massive NO to post-pub solo drinking. Why, why, why would you ever come home, five pints in, and have a bottle of beer (or wine) to yourself? I once decided to watch the entire 1970 FA cup final, both legs plus extra time, while doing this. Not good for a work night.
  • At least two dry nights a week. I also plan to stick with driving on certain nights out, especially weeknights. It’s essentially a preset one pint limit which I then can’t be budged on.

Bearing all that in mind, one thing my hard-stopping friend has often told me is ‘be more lizard,’ which essentially means adapt as the need arises. I have managed that even in my year off, with rules allowing a certain amount of flex (in ten and a half months I’ve had eight drinks: two weddings, two BIG birthdays, one wake Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Eve).

I’m hoping this year will give me the perspective to be more sensible with alcohol, but also the understanding to enjoy it for what it is, rather than just drink out of necessity or habit. To make a conscious decision about every drink.

Before, I had thought I wanted to try and get back up to my old drinking ability, but now that seems a little ridiculous. What do I have to prove, and to whom? And in a way a lower tolerance has to be better for the wallet, and for the next morning (I think. This may be a good time to experiment on the hangover/memory front). The ability to soak up booze shouldn’t be a goal.

I told one of my friends that part of my motivation over the last year was that ‘good things should continue being good, and if they are awful without booze you’re probably better off without them. And the same with people.’
I stick by that, as my friends have stuck by me (and I have stuck through their drunken antics).

Now I contemplate my return to drink, I still plan to continue with the things I’ve taken up and the things I’ve increased: rowing, tango dancing, climbing. The rowing should keep me pretty well behaved, at least until May, but I think the tango may be improved with a stiff drink.

Overall, I think my intention is to drink again, but for the right reasons. To drink as an enhancement of experience, not a replacement for it.

It is important, in other words, to drink for happiness rather than because of misery, stop if ever it is something that is needed, and only to enjoy booze when I could happily forego it.

I think I would be safest to follow the path laid out by GK Chesterton, who saw a paradoxical rule behind good reasons for drinking: “Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.”

And above all, I must Be More Lizard.

My return to drink will be on April Fool’s Day, perhaps appropriately, and I have now got to the point of planning what I will drink. It’s not a precise plan, as such, and boils down to: some tasty cider, and some tastier rum.

The following day will be a celebration of my birthday – no shots allowed and perhaps soft drinks between – with a few more drinks.

I may or may not write a final blog to turn this trilogy into a tetralogy. It may simply be a liveblog of a hangover. Or a terrible Instagram slideshow of depravity and humiliation. But I’m hoping not.